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With Israel at war, what counts as a worthy Jewish cause?

(JTA) — Moving Traditions is a small Jewish organization with an unusual name and a mission that can be hard to describe on one foot. Working through synagogues, Hebrew schools and its own programs and curricula, it helps Jewish kids navigate their teen years in healthy, safe, appropriate and socially conscious ways.

 When the Hamas attacks in Israel on Oct. 7 threw the Jewish world into crisis, Moving Traditions created curricula to help teachers and teens talk about the conflict. And its CEO, Shuli Karkowsky, ordered up a “worst-case scenario” plan in case some of her reliable funders decided to hold back on their support and direct more money to Israel. 

“We need to be humble and realize that we are an organization that serves North American teams. And so I don’t think we can put ourselves out there as the people who are going to be solving the Middle East crisis,” she said earlier this week.

To her relief, at a time when the Jewish philanthropic community is mobilizing around the war, her funders said they are going to “make the pie bigger”— that is, continue supporting groups like hers and expanding their giving in Israel. 

As they have during previous crises in Israel, American Jews are pouring dollars into Israel to support people displaced by the war, to bolster nonprofits whose employees are headed to the front and, in a newish twist, to defend both Israel in the court of public opinion and Jews abroad who are seeing an uptick in antisemitism. 

Jewish Federations of North America has raised $638 million among its network of local Jewish community chests. UJA-Federation, the largest of these, has so far allocated more than $38 million for work on the ground in Israel. Israel Bonds said it sold more than $200 million worth of bonds in the week following the Hamas attacks. 

Jewish nonprofit execs celebrate this outpouring, but are quietly anxious. As priorities shift to the defense of and support for Israel, what will happen to the bottom line of the schools, social services agencies, cultural centers and other Jewish institutions that don’t have an obvious Israel portfolio? 

An adjacent question is one of discretion, even tact: With many nonprofits dependent on the end-of-the-year gifts that allow donors to claim tax benefits, should they go ahead with their own fundraising appeals and perhaps attach their “asks” to the current crisis?

“What irks me particularly is an emergency campaign now when they’re not related to the crisis,” said Andres Spokoiny, the president and CEO of the Jewish Funders Network, speaking generally. “If you’re a school that is not affected by the crisis, just tell the truth that despite the crisis, you need to continue operating, and that having a strong community means that institutions and organizations like yours need to be strong and healthy.”

Spokoiny, whose organization’s “How You Can Help” Israel page lists “trusted agencies and nonprofits,” has been recommending to the private foundations and philanthropists under his organization’s umbrella that they give “above and beyond,” supporting their traditional grantees as well as the emergency campaigns for Israel. “Otherwise,” he said, “you’re robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

Hundreds gather for a pro-Israel rally in Philadelphia’s Independence Square, sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, Oct. 16, 2023. (Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia)

Spokoiny also knows that the pot of funds allocated for Jewish giving is not bottomless. He is hoping the current crisis serves as a “wake-up call to the many Jewish donors that give, you know, token gifts to the Jewish community and huge gifts to their alma mater or to the hospital to give more to Jewish and Israeli causes.”

Barry Finestone, president and CEO of the Jim Joseph Foundation, recommended a similar approach in a recent essay in eJewish Philanthropy. Finestone prefers “yes, and” to “above and beyond,” and he also calls on Jewish donors to divert more of their secular giving to Jewish causes.

“Yes, we absolutely need to support Israel and Israelis. We need to contribute mightily to the multitude of needs Israel has,” he writes. “But unless philanthropy steps up in the U.S. as well, there is a genuine chance that much of the organizational structure we have spent generations building will be stretched to its limits.”

Normally, the San Francisco-based Jim Josephs Foundation funds Jewish education in the United States. (70 Faces Media, JTA’s parent company, has been a grantee.) In an interview, Finestone said he wrote the article partly in response to colleagues and friends who called him in recent weeks unclear where to send their donations. 

 “They ran the risk of being forgotten,” he said of the Jewish organizations that don’t directly serve Israel. “And please God when this is over, and we know there’s going to be a long tail both literally and psychologically, we’re going to turn back to our camps, and to our synagogues, and to our JCCs and we’ve got to make sure that they’re there, or else the fabric of Jewish life that we’ve built over the years has the potential to crumble.”

Yehuda Kurtzer, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute, says the outpouring for Israel has been inspiring, but also worries that the shift toward what he calls, in a Facebook post, “defensive, protective, and supportive” causes will come at the expense of “foundational” and “constructive” philanthropy. 

Foundational giving, he said in an interview, is about “keeping the lights on in the synagogues and Jewish institutions that do the core work of Jewish life. Deeply unsexy.”

As an example, he points to the flood of giving that is expected in response to the pro-Palestinian and antisemitic activism on college campuses. “Jewish students feel vulnerable on college campuses, so dollars are going to go to, quote, unquote, fighting antisemitism on campus,” said Kurtzer. “But there’s another set of dollars that Hillels need right now: They have record turnout for students coming to Shabbat dinner over the past month. They’re looking for foundational dollars so they can support [that] or provide counseling services, whatever students need.”

Constructive giving, meanwhile, is about developing new ideas. “What would be the next major play for college students,” asks Kurtzer, “that can help them build resilience and knowledge and relationships and all of the stuff that might grow out of a moment of crisis like this?”

Past crises have shaped Jewish priorities for generations. In response to the Six-Day War in 1967, American Jews donated more than $100 million — close to $1 billion in today’s dollars — in a little over two weeks. Six years later, when the Yom Kippur War punctured Israel’s aura of invulnerability, American Jews contributed $700 million in emergency aid, or $6.4 billion in today’s money. Both wars also cemented Israel as a central component of American Jewish identity, politics and philanthropy.

At the time, however, Israel was still viewed as a developing country, the historian Lila Corwin Berman points out. “For quite a while, Israel has been economically a fairly well-to-do nation and hasn’t needed American Jewish dollars in the same sort of fundamental way,” said Corwin Berman, the chair of American Jewish History at Temple University. As Israel prospered and the military threats against it appeared to recede, donors’ priorities shifted to the American Jewish “intermarriage crisis,” which led to the creation of the Birthright trips for young people and a push for affordable Jewish day schooling. 

UJA-Federation of New York led a rally in support of Israel and calling for the release of Israeli hostages, Manhattan, Nov. 6, 2023. (Luke Tress)

Corwin Berman acknowledged that Israelis still have genuine needs — for example, those who lost their homes and loved ones in the Oct. 7 attacks. But she notes that money going into less material needs — like the fight against antisemitism — will ultimately shape Jewish priorities, perhaps in unexpected or unwelcome ways. Some on the Jewish left have already complained that many groups fighting antisemitism have a right-wing agenda, while others worry that too many groups are fighting the same fight.

“The concern that I have about putting lots and lots of money into this fight against antisemitism is that it might develop a very, very blunt set of tools to use,” said Corwin Berman, who has written a critique of what she calls the “American Jewish Philanthropic Complex.” “I would say the tools at this point lag well behind what would be required to deal with an extraordinarily complex phenomenon.”

UJA-Federation, for example, is allocating $600,000 to responding to antisemitism on campus, normally a sizable allocation if only a fraction of the money raised for the emergency campaign. Mark Charendoff, the president of the Maimonides Fund, said the board of his grantmaking organization is also focusing on fighting antisemitism, along with what he calls the “internal refugee crisis” — Israelis displaced and traumatized by the war — and “strategic communications,” or advocating for Israel to politicians and the public. 

Charendoff said the Maimonides board does not intend to cut back on any of its current grant-making, which supports education and issues-oriented programs in North America and Israel, like Hadar Institute for Jewish learning,  an L.A.-based organization that encourages Jewish filmmaking and the fund’s own journal of ideas, Sapir.  But that they do intend to focus on “anything that we can do to respond to the current crisis. We should be looking for those options on both sides of the ocean. And this would be over and above our current budget,” he said.

And yet he knows that pivoting to new priorities can come at a cost in attention to other needs. 

“Human beings only have so much bandwidth,” he said. “And on both sides of the ocean, our staff are single-mindedly focused on the current crisis, obviously. Which means that we’re not focused on new opportunities, new ways of engaging in the elements of our portfolio that are not related to or not affected by the war.”

Karkowsky, at Moving Traditions, said her organization doesn’t intend to do significant fundraising around the emergency in Israel, but that doesn’t mean it has nothing to offer to a Jewish world in crisis.

“I do think there’s an enormous need for work with North American Jewish teens right now who feel confused and lonely,” she said. “They’re not sure what their political opinions are, or they do and they feel abandoned by their friends, or they do and they disagree really strongly with their parents who are coming back and saying, ‘How do I connect with my kid who’s saying things I really don’t agree with?’ So I do think there’s a small role for us to play as part of the work we would be doing anyway.”

The post With Israel at war, what counts as a worthy Jewish cause? appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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On Explosive Northern Front, Hezbollah Lurks; IDF Conducts Precise Defense

UN peacekeepers (UNIFIL) patrol in the village of Khiam, near the border with Israel, in southern Lebanon, July 12, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Aziz Taher

JNS.orgAs Israel prepares for the strong possibility of a resumption of war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli Defense Forces is also currently in a heightened state of alert and preparedness along the border with Lebanon, responding to the continuous threats posed by Hezbollah.

Since Oct. 7, the IDF has deployed significant military resources, including artillery, tanks and engineering corps, along the Lebanese border, striking Hezbollah anti-tank missile squads and other terrorists whenever they are detected, either after an attack or preparing for one.

This low-intensity conflict when compared to Gaza has resulted in some 90 casualties for Hezbollah and nine Israeli casualties—six military personnel and three civilians.

Several Israeli homes and military bases have sustained heavy damage from Hezbollah strikes since Oct. 7, and tens of thousands of Israeli residents from areas near the border with Lebanon remain evacuated, displaced from their homes by the threat of the Radwan Hezbollah elite terrorist unit.

In response, the IDF has employed a defensive-responsive posture aimed at protecting Israeli territory from Hezbollah’s aggression but not escalating the situation into a full-scale war front at this time.

Its approach is characterized by a reactive rather than proactive stance. Operations are tailored to respond to specific threats and attacks from Hezbollah, avoiding initiating aggression. This goal remains to protect civilian lives and property, as well as to make sure that Hezbollah cannot surprise the north as Hamas did the south. Still, the decision of any expanded war efforts in Lebanon remains up to the war cabinet.

Hezbollah’s tactics, meanwhile, involve embedding its operations within Lebanese civilian areas; using southern Shi’ite villages as bases of attack; firing anti-tank missiles at Israeli northern homes and military positions; and continuing to pose a serious and persistent threat.

The question of whether the Radwan unit, which has murder and kidnap squads much like Hamas’s Nukhba unit, could breach the Israeli border and conduct attacks has no clear answer at this time, although the IDF is present at the border in large numbers and has proven effective at detecting Radwan unit movements in real-time.

Hezbollah’s terror tactics not only endanger Lebanese civilians but are designed to complicate the IDF’s response—a familiar use of human shielding that Hamas employs as well in Gaza.

In this explosive situation, the IDF currently exercises restraint in its counterstrikes, relying on precise intelligence to target terrorist threats while minimizing civilian casualties and collateral damage.

UNIFIL ineffective in curbing provocation

The role of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in challenging Hezbollah’s flagrant violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which bans Hezbollah from operating in Southern Lebanon, is nonexistent.

Worse yet, Hezbollah has been actively using UNIFIL as human shields, launching attacks on Israel in some cases from tens of meters from UNIFIL positions.

UNIFIL’s ineffectiveness in curbing Hezbollah’s activities is self-evident, highlighting the limitations of international peacekeeping forces in such scenarios.

Despite this, the IDF continues to remain in contact with UNIFIL and has been transmitting its concern over Hezbollah’s destabilizing activities with no tangible results.

So far, Israel’s policy on the Lebanon border is a delicate balance between essential defense and cautious restraint. But it remains unclear how long this can continue since northern residents will not return to a persistent Hezbollah threat to their lives in the new, post-Oct. 7 reality, and the IDF cannot remain fully deployed in the north indefinitely.

The result is a paradox that appears to suggest difficult decisions in the future by the Israeli war cabinet if the north is to be sustainable and its residents granted a new sense of security.

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The Determination of Israel’s Reservists

IDF soldiers are seen at rest stop near the border with Gaza. Photo: Reuters/Jim Hollander

JNS.orgWho is the Israel soldier? They can be of any age and profession. It may have been a long time since they held a weapon. Many of them are at Tze’elim, one of the IDF’s largest bases, just across the border from Gaza on yellow sand.

When I meet them, they are waiting, as the brief ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was still holding. A short time later, Hamas broke the truce, attacked Israel with rockets, and the fighting began again.

These soldiers are older and more emotional than you would imagine. Their intentions are clear: “Never Again.” The Oct. 7 massacre will never be permitted to reoccur. Israel must be freed from the nightmare of Hamas.

In Tze’elim, rows of barracks and numerous disorderly tents house thousands of soldiers of all kinds. We meet with a group of them from Brigade 252. They are soldiers from the miluim—the reserves. They have completed their three-year military service—or two years, if they are women—but they all keep their “miluim bag” under the bed. If the phone rings, as happened on Oct. 7, they rush to the front, whether they are in Tel Aviv or traveling in Japan, whether they are left-wing or right-wing, professors or taxi drivers. They tear themselves away from the operating room and the shop, the lawyer’s office and the bus they drive.

Commander A. is thin, with gray hair and a kind smile. He is religious. On the morning of Oct. 7, he was in synagogue without a telephone. Someone told him “something never seen before is happening.” A. rushed to his collection point in the south and has yet to return home.

On Oct. 7, the reserves were immediately thrown into the battle to retake the kibbutzim that had been attacked and massacred by Hamas terrorists. They hunted down the Hamas men who remained and collected the wounded and dead Israelis in the fields and on the roads. A. closes his eyes. He has seen hell.

The 252 was then sent into the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, home to 50,000 inhabitants who serve as human shields for what is essentially a massive rocket launching pad. The reservists were trained in a mock-up of a Gaza city. They practiced how to enter, shoot, exit, climb, attack and go through tunnels full of TNT. They trained against ambushes, snipers and RPGs.

A. says that, when they went into Beit Hanoun itself, “We had to quickly learn a lesson: Beit Hanoun’s ambush is in his heart, not its outer circles. The terrorists let you enter easily. There’s a row of houses, two or three more, and that’s where Hamas is waiting for you—where you don’t expect it, in civilian structures.”

A. explains, “If we decide to destroy a structure and there are civilians inside, we warn the civilian population. … There are precise rules for evaluating whether we have to act, whether it’s essential because if we don’t act, the lives of soldiers or Israeli civilians are in danger. We try to stop Hamas’s continuous use of human shields by moving the civilians out completely.”

A. is happy to say, “Of civilians killed in Ben Hanoun, the number is zero.”

Israeli soldiers, however, were killed. Maj. Moshe, a 50-year-old engineer who works in high-tech, explained, “An army generally advances on a territory that, once occupied, is the starting point of your next step. But here, through the tunnels under the ground, suddenly you find the enemy shooting at you from behind.”

Thus, great efforts were made to locate the tunnels. “With the use of sophisticated instruments, and also sometimes suffering unexpected explosions given that Hamas’s specialty is to mine everything with large quantities of explosives, we quickly understood that the tunnels were a very sophisticated network, not holes of various sizes dug here and there, but an enormous spider web that converged on the urban center.”

“The structures used by Hamas, which they protected with human shields, included a mosque, a school, a hospital, a public swimming pool, civilian homes, children’s rooms, even their beds. There were weapons everywhere,” he says.

As a result of the truce, Moshe states, some of the evacuated civilians have begun to return. “We can block them,” he says, “but not attack them or approach them. There is a truce.”

Nonetheless, I point out, three soldiers were wounded two days ago in an attack. “True,” Moshe replies, “and we returned fire. If we are in danger we respond.” He notes that some of the returnees are Hamas terrorists, “but we are in a truce, we act according to the rules of defense.”

“We have two ways of being at war: offensive and defensive,” he continues. “The offensive is much easier: You face the enemy. You can move. Defense is unnerving, even dangerous, especially when there are civilians around.”

However, he says, there is much to do, even during a truce. “For example, we had completely dismantled the explosive systems inside a building, and then we realized that everything had been mined again.”

Hamas, he says, is “easier to deal with than endure while you can’t move. So, we wait for orders. The mission is to destroy Hamas and bring the kidnapped people home. That and nothing else.”

Now that the soldiers are back at war, the humanitarian issue is certainly important to them; not because of what the Biden administration tells them, but because that is what an Israeli soldier is.

First and foremost, however, they are Jews who know exactly what was done to their people on Oct. 7 and will continue their war of justice and survival. One of them tells me, “Yes, I feel when we fight, feel it physically, that our kidnapped citizens are not far away, and I fight for them too with all my heart. This is the most just war of all time.”

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The Moral Bankruptcy of IfNotNow

IfNotNow supporters at a rally in New York City. Photo: IfNotNow via Facebook.

JNS.orgA few days ago, I attended a webinar entitled “Jews for Ceasefire,” presented by the young Jewish anti-Zionists of IfNotNow. It was hosted by an earnest young woman named Gen (IfNotNow activists often don’t use their surnames), who began by reaffirming what the group calls its main goal: to “end American support for Israeli apartheid.” She went on to emphasize that all the positions taken by IfNotNow are “deeply grounded in Jewish tradition.” To prove the point, she called on Rabbi Monica Gomery, who led a prayer and enthusiastically praised the group’s work.

Next up was Noa, a young woman who said, “I’m going to root us in the moment.” “The moment,” however, did not include Hamas’s Oct. 7 genocidal attack on Israeli civilians. Noa said nothing whatsoever about it. Instead, she presented a litany of alleged Israeli abuses inflicted on Palestinians. Her omission appeared to be deliberate, as it helped portray the IDF’s defensive military operations in Gaza as an unprovoked act of aggression.

Following Noa, there was a testimonial from a young man named Boaz. He made what appeared to him to be a confession that his grandfather helped perpetrate the “nakba.” What he meant was that his grandfather was a soldier in Israel’s War of Independence. For Boaz, his father’s participation in Israel’s successful effort to prevent a second Holocaust was a source of shame, not pride. As he explained, he was trying to work through his guilt. A poster behind him bore the slogan, “Palestine will be free,” a popular euphemism for that second Holocaust.

After Boaz’s self-flagellation came the highlight of the webinar—an appearance by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). Tlaib has been an ally of IfNotNow for some time. In fact, the group’s leadership began collaborating with Tlaib before she was elected to Congress. During her presentation, Tlaib referred to them as her “siblings.”

Sporting a t-shirt that said, “Justice from Detroit to Gaza”—a slogan that falsely connects Israel to police brutality controversies in the U.S.—Tlaib declared that Congress must demand a ceasefire in Israel’s war against Hamas and “stop funding war crimes.” Like her IfNotNow supporters, Tlaib conveniently made no mention of the Oct. 7 attack or the hostages held by Hamas.

It apparently did not bother the leaders of IfNotNow that the House of Representatives had just censured Tlaib for her genocidal call to free “Palestine from the river to the sea.” Indeed, IfNotNow leaders repeat the same call in their training sessions. That training also endorses the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement that seeks to economically strangle Israel, as well as the so-called “right of return,” which aims to demographically eliminate the Jewish state.

It seems that IfNotNow leaders are unperturbed that Tlaib has characterized Hamas’s rampage of crimes against humanity as justified “resistance” to an “apartheid state.” These Jews, it appears, are perfectly happy to align themselves with someone who supports murdering large numbers of Jews. They are also unbothered by the fact that Tlaib posted a video on social media that says, “Joe Biden supported the genocide of the Palestinian people”—a genocide that is not happening. One of IfNotNow’s campaigns calling for a ceasefire is entitled, “No Genocide in Our Name.” Having erased Hamas’s genocidal attack, IfNotNow appears to have fabricated one.

In addition, IfNotNow has officially endorsed Tlaib’s statement, “You cannot claim to hold progressive values yet back Israel’s apartheid government.” To them and other young Jews who clasp hands with Tlaib and her compatriots, condemnation of Israel is the sine qua non of being a progressive, and a policy of racist exclusion must be imposed on any Jew who doesn’t get with the program. IfNotNow looks to Tlaib to lead the way, even though, like antisemites throughout history, she is happy to exploit them and eventually discard them once they have outlived their usefulness.

Most tellingly, IfNotNow has been unfazed by Tlaib’s open antisemitism, such as her claim that American supporters of Israel “forgot what country they represent,” clearly invoking the “dual loyalty” libel. She has also engaged in antisemitic conspiracy theories, talking about the “people behind the curtain” who are exploiting victims “from Gaza to Detroit.”

Worst of all, Tlaib is the only member of Congress to call for an end to the Jewish state. It should not be surprising that IfNotNow is fine with that, as they proudly state that they take no position on Israel’s right to exist.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has perfectly and accurately described such people as “Hamas’s useful idiots.”

The origins of IfNotNow’s ideology are obvious. Like Tlaib and many other “social justice” ideologues, IfNotNow divides people into two groups: Oppressors and the oppressed. Depending on your racial or ethnic identity, you by definition belong to one or the other. There are no gradations, no nuance and only one permissible narrative. Thus, decades of genocidal Arab violence go unmentioned, including the Oct. 7 massacre. There is only Israeli oppression and Palestinian “resistance.”

It would be a mistake to believe that IfNotNow is an inconsequential outlier. They have nine chapters across the United States and an office on K Street in Washington, D.C. The webinar I attended had more than 1,600 attendees.

They also have powerful friends and an enormous amount of money. According to NGO Monitor, IfNotNow has received grants from the wealthy Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Tides Foundation, the New Israel Fund’s Progressive Jewish Fund and the Foundation for Middle East Peace.

All that, plus support from a member of Congress. It seems that racism, hate and support for genocide pay off.

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